Over the past several years, the marketing sphere has been upended by explosive growth in technology. From automation tools, to data management platforms, to programmatic buying, modern marketers must navigate an ever-expanding set of technologies in order to succeed. Certainly, these tools have given marketing greater clarity on performance, and helped brands to create more personalized and compelling experiences for their audiences. But getting these disparate systems to work together is no easy task. For marketers, finding a seamless integration between various technologies might be the difference between success and failure in such a competitive marketplace.
Recently, Winterberry Group and the Data & Marketing Association surveyed a group of marketing leaders in order to uncover tactics they believe will best aid in the optimization of omnichannel marketing efforts. The top response?
“Better integration of existing marketing technology,” at 49.3%.
With nearly three out of four marketers planning to increase their marketing technology budget in 2017, according to a study by Walker Sands Communications and Chief Marketing Technologist, achieving an integration strategy is more important now than ever before.
At Olapic, we are fortunate to integrate with a number of leading marketing technology providers in order to help our clients activate their user-generated, or “earned” content across a variety of channels. We asked some of our valued partners to weigh in on this issue, and to offer suggestions for how all brands can make the most from their marketing tech stacks.
Common Integration Challenges
The process of integrating technology is inherently difficult. Brands must design methodology to allow vastly differing platforms to communicate with one another. For an organization with even a moderately sophisticated tech stack, the process can be akin to having a conversation with a group of people where no two individuals speak the same language. And then when everything finally gets on the same page, the stack changes or continues to grow. According to Gartner, CMOs are projected to spend more on technology than CIOs this year. So it’s important they have a strong plan in place to overcome these hurdles.
“The challenges facing retailers specifically are significant. Currently it is too difficult, if not impossible, for retailers to power personalized interactions across marketing channels,” says Ryan Luckin, Head of Marketing at Bluecore, which delivers actionable behavioral and product data in one system. “The first step most retailers take to solve this issue is to leverage existing components of their marketing stack and stitch these together. This stitching, or integration, becomes a massive and costly IT undertaking.”
While it may seem obvious that this process isn’t the most effective way for brands to manage their technology, making changes to legacy systems is an enormously resource-intensive effort. In extending the life and value of existing technology systems, brands can get more for their investments. Eventually, however, as Luckin points out, the process will push “individual software solutions well beyond their primary use cases.”
Aside from extending the value of existing technology, brands must also ensure they are investing in solutions that can accomplish their stated goals. According to Max Kalehoff, CMO at SocialCode, social ad technology company, one of the most common challenges we hear among brands adopting and integrating marketing technology is that the technology they purchased doesn’t do exactly — or live up to — what they thought they were purchasing in the first place. This is true for tactical point solutions, but also for larger marketing suites, and ‘marketing clouds.’
It’s a good point, especially since the switching costs for marketing technology can be prohibitively expensive. This underscores the importance of researching intensely prior to integration to ensure each component of your tech stack is valuable and optimized. Still, gaining a complete understanding of every moving technology target is easier said than done. The reality is that consumer brands are not software companies, which makes it difficult to manage and optimize changing technology components at all times.
“Commerce companies are experts in their respective markets but most of them don’t build software applications,” says Ryan Murden, VP of Business Development at commerce marketing automation company, Bronto. “They usually rely on technology developed and delivered from third party vendors that have built solutions for specific tasks or functions.”
This is true even for brands that are digitally-native and have strong in-house tech talent, simply because their resources are distributed in favor of designing, producing, and selling their products or services to audiences.
Maintaining an optimized and integrated tech stack is a full discipline, all on its own. Nicole Bromley, Director of Strategic Partner Marketing at Listrak, which provides marketing automation technology for retailers, specifically notes one of the largest challenges to be “understanding the impact that each technology has on conversions and the brand experience,” adding that “varying attribution models can make it very difficult to understand what is working and what is not.” This can be especially frustrating since of the primary objectives that marketers have from integrating their technology stacks is cohesive reporting and a centralized view of their customer. Murden adds, “as each technology vendor innovates, maintaining and supporting the system is a constant challenge.”
Creating a More Seamless Integration Strategy
As marketing practitioners, we may not be able to completely solve the integration challenge, but choosing to work with vendors that play well with one another will help lessen the burden significantly. We asked our partners to share a few leading indicators of success they look for when evaluating the potential of various tools. Predictably, their responses focused on the importance of doing upfront legwork prior to integration, with the idea that it’s more efficient and effective to get the integration right the first time rather than trying to fix broken connections once they’re implemented across teams.
“Brands must consider how a technology partner will work cohesively with other providers before investing,” says Ava Aprin, Director of Technology Partnerships at Certona, which powers omnichannel personalized experiences. “As a brand partner, understanding which technologies the client is using will drive the integration project design and ensure it addresses the client’s immediate and long-term goals.” SocialCode’s Kalehoff added, “Integrating marketing technology to improve omnichannel marketing efforts starts with establishing clear business goals, and then mapping them to a centralized data and operational framework. Marketing technologies must be built around, or configured to, these centralized customer data and operational frameworks.
Interestingly, thinking beyond the technology was another common theme in our conversations with partners. Outside of ensuring that the tools are speaking to one another, brands must think critically about their goals, and involve team members that can contribute accordingly. At Bronto, Murden and his team are always keeping their eyes open for market trends so they can adjust. “We actively try to understand the existing infrastructure and investments of every prospect and customer we work with,” he tells us. “Starting with the commerce platform, financial platform, and CRM, we consult with brands to determine how Bronto will consume and deliver information within this commerce system. We maintain and document APIs and data loading tools through our dedicated developer site. And when numerous customers make investments in a common technology (like Magento, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, NetSuite, and Shopify) we invest in pre-built connectors that are developed, maintained and supported by Bronto.”
Through this effort, partners like Bronto are able to allow the brands to focus on their priorities. Aprin agrees, highlighting how important it is for technology companies to act as partners instead of vendors. “Another key to success for marketers is to rely on the brand partner as an extension of their teams, allowing them to focus on other strategic initiatives. Choosing the right partner for implementation can remove a lot of known barriers and can result in a quick-to-market, robust solution that delivers favorable results.”
Benefits of a Partner Ecosystem
One of the biggest mistakes that brands can make when building out their marketing tech stacks is to try and accomplish every possible goal at once. Instead, brands need to master their primary goals and grow their capabilities from there. Conversely, technology providers shouldn’t aim to be everything to everyone. They will provide the biggest impact to brands by focusing on becoming very, very good at a directed objective. Each of our partners has built their own unique partner ecosystems, predicated on their individual goals. For many, partnership decisions are made depending on how they can directly tie to client goals.
According to Bromley, “our partner ecosystem is made up of some of the best technologies available to retailers. When we form a partnership with a complementary technology, we do so with our customers’ goals in mind. We focus on providing our retailers with more opportunities to increase customer acquisition, enhance brand image and experience, and improve customer retention.” Aprin agrees, saying “The primary goal for our partner ecosystem is to connect our clients with the right technologies and maximize their investments…By leveraging personalization solutions, marketers can better target and deliver individualized messaging, product offerings and promotions. Certona is dedicated to improving the overall customer experience, and our partner ecosystem enables seamless collaboration with other technologies to drive mutual client brand success.”
A strong partnership ecosystem can be an effective tool for brands for a number of reasons, but most simply, it is about making decisions and programs easier for the end user. When executed correctly, technology providers as well as brands have an enormous potential for success. At Bluecore, Luckin cites the company’s discipline in remaining true to core beliefs as a primary driver of its success.
“As a solution built specifically to address the pain points for e-commerce retailers, Bluecore works with partners like Olapic, Oracle, Salesforce, and others to reduce the friction of integrations down to just a few mouse clicks. Empowering e-commerce marketers is a central tenet of Bluecore’s mission and we extend that philosophy to our partner ecosystem, seeking out technology partners who will make our shared brand customers more successful in finding and keeping their most valuable customers for life.”
As a brand, it can be an overwhelming proposition to onboard and integrate all of the relevant technology impacting today’s business goals. As a technology provider, it can be equally overwhelming to face the task of solving all of a client’s challenges for them. Finding a purpose and direction will help members of both groups ultimately achieve their goals.
How are you integrating your disparate technology providers?